“The power under the constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will, be recalled.”

~ George Washington (1787)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Senator Hewitt's Eastsider's Report -- 3/8/2013

March 8, 2013
Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Welcome to another busy week in Olympia. We’re just past the halfway point of the 2013 legislative session, and are winding down the first week that’s been devoted entirely to debating and voting on bills on the Senate floor. Next Wednesday is the deadline for any bills that originated in the Senate to be approved and sent to the House of Representatives for further consideration (and vice-versa in the House). This is always an exciting time of year.

In this edition of the Eastsider's Report, I’ll provide an update on two bills I sponsored which passed the Senate this week. One creates a raffle to support the Special Olympics and the other would enhance the experience of students enrolled in culinary and viniculture programs at Walla Walla Community College. I’ll also highlight the package of bills the Senate approved on Wednesday to reform our state’s education system and reconnect the resources our state puts into the system with results. I’m proud that the Senate is taking the lead in improving education for all of our state’s students, and that we’re doing it through a collaborative and bipartisan effort.

If you have thoughts, questions or concerns with any issue facing our state, I’m interested to hear about them. You can always email me or call me in Olympia at (360) 786-7630. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can be of assistance to you in any way.

Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve you in the state Senate.

Sen. Mike Hewitt

Education-reform proposals
On Wednesday, the Senate approved nine bills aimed at reconnecting resources with results in our state’s education system. As we have discussed in recent weeks, there’s currently no measurable correlation between the amount of funding a district receives from the state and the outcomes of its students.
One of my goals for this session is to increase funding for basic education, but it doesn’t make sense to put more resources into the same old system. We need to ensure that your tax dollars are being used effectively, and that we’re improving the education experience of all of our state’s students – regardless of race, region or economic background.

Making changes to our education system is never easy, but it needs to be done. Our state’s graduation rate has been hovering at around 76 percent for several years. Put another way, we’re failing one out of every four students that enters our public school system. That’s simply not acceptable.

Fortunately, there is broad consensus among teachers and the public for a move towards evidence-based education principles. As an example, a recent poll conducted by Excellent Schools Now revealed that around 80 percent of voters and teachers agree that common learning standards allow for better comparability and monitoring between different states. Around 70 percent of voters and the public agree that common standards in English and math will improve student learning and achievement. A link to the full poll can be found here.

Below are brief summaries of the key bills approved by the Senate this week. If you’d like more information on any of the measures, clicking on the bill number will take you to its legislative webpage.

Senate Bill 5237 - Establishing accountability for student performance in reading
Emphasizes the importance of reading at grade-level by the end of third grade. If a student fails 3rd-grade reading assessment a meeting with parents, teacher and principal would be called to decide whether to retain the student in 3rd grade or move along to 4th grade with required summer school attendance.
Senate Bill 5242 - Regarding assignment of certificated instructional staff
School districts would be required to adopt a policy where teachers and other school staff must reach a mutual agreement with the school principal for staff assignments.
Senate Bill 5243 - Academic acceleration for high school students
Automatically enrolls students in advanced course offerings like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and others, if a student is meeting state academic standards. Districts must notify students about the policy, and parents or guardians would be provided the opportunity to opt-out on behalf of the student.
Senate Bill 5244 - Regarding school discipline
Would require that school disciplinary action have a set end date, rather than the current practice of allowing indefinite suspensions and expulsions. Also encourages schools to provide educational services to suspended or expelled students and requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to track data on student discipline.
Senate Bill 5328 - Creating a school-grading program
Uses current statewide achievement index established by the state Board of Education and OSPI to label schools on an A through F grading system to create transparency and awareness for parents and the community. Districts that have at least one school designated as an “F” under the program would be designated as “required action districts,” be subject to the state accountability system and would be eligible to receive funding to improve their status.
Senate Bill 5330 - Improving student achievement and outcomes
Encourages the use of evidence-based education programs like the Learning Assistance Program for students with behavioral issues. Also reduces class sizes, encourages bilingual education and adds a teacher mentor program for new and probationary teachers.
Senate Bill 5491 - Establishing statewide indicators of educational health
Establishes six statewide indicators for the health of the education system, ranging from kindergarten assessments through postsecondary enrollment data.
Senate Bill 5587 - Concerning student assessments
Requires that starting in 2018, students must meet state requirements for English and math in order to graduate. Aligns our testing with common core standards, which emphasizes career and college readiness.
Senate Bill 5794 - Concerning alternative learning
Reforms the state’s alternative learning system to streamline education experiences across the state. Also allows for more remote learning.

Senate approves proposal to support Special Olympics
A bill I proposed to allow raffles in support of the Special Olympics was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. As many of you know, the Special Olympics is a sports organization for individuals with developmental disabilities, and they make a tremendous difference in the lives of these individuals, both in our community and across the country.

Senate Bill 5723 would allow the state to operate up to four enhanced raffles each year to support individuals with developmental disabilities through the Special Olympics. The value of the grand prize from the raffle would be up to $5 million, with individual ticket prices being capped at $250.

The Special Olympics is an incomparable organization and it is an honor to be able to bring SB 5723 forward. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where it has been referred to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

Bill to benefit food and wine programs at Walla Walla Community college moves forward
A proposal to benefit students enrolled in culinary, wine and beer programs at Walla Walla Community College was approved by the state Senate yesterday. I proposed Senate Bill 5774, which would create a special permit to allow students aged 18 and over and enrolled in the school’s culinary, wine and beer programs to taste, but not consume alcohol.

I know that there’s going to be a degree of concern anytime we talk about allowing minors to taste alcohol, but this is strictly about enhancing a student’s understanding of what will be an integral component of their career. It’s every bit as essential to their learning as allowing biology majors to interact with plants would be.

As someone who spent his private-sector career in the beer and wine business, I am extremely sensitive to the need to prevent underage drinking. That’s why there are strict sidebars in the bill to ensure that students would only be allowed to ‘sip and spit’ the alcohol.